We consume daily media coverage of violent acts occurring across the world. These tragic events can cause varying reactions depending on an individual’s age, background, past experiences, and identity. Individuals may also react differently depending on the format in which they receive the information such as viewing disturbing images online, watching/reading the news, or hearing information second-hand through conversation with others.
Devastating events such as the Uvalde shooting at Robb Elementary School, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, systemic racism protests leading to riots and looting, and most recently the mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois are different in nature but may activate similar emotions and reactions. Reactions to violent acts may span across four different categories:
- Cognitive reactions such as difficulty concentrating, hyper-focusing on the violent event, a decline in school performance, difficulty formulating thoughts, and difficulty communicating with others.
- Physical reactions such as changes in sleeping and eating patterns or somatic complaints such as headache, stomachache, or palpitations.
- Emotional reactions such as anger, fear, anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, agitation, irritability, or numbness.
- Behavioral reactions such as withdrawal from friends/family, difficulty fulfilling duties at one’s job or home, not wanting to leave one’s home or maladaptive coping such as substance abuse.
In a time when tragedies seem to strike repeatedly, it can be difficult to remain hopeful, support others, and engage in self-care. Below are some tips on how to support others when violence hits the headlines:
- Create a trusting and safe environment by eliminating opinion and judgment.
- Engage your listening skills: be okay with silence and allow others the opportunity to process their thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
- Use age-appropriate language to talk to children and adolescents; share facts and stay as neutral as possible.
- Be aware of household conversations and the amount of news coverage being consumed, and how these impact your family members.
- Do not assume others’ feelings/reactions are the same as yours.
- Validate others’ feelings and be okay with saying — and accepting — “I don’t know” as a response.
- Just like we learn on commercial airlines, “put your oxygen mask on first.” Monitor and address your reactions to violent events before supporting others. Maintain healthy routines and reconnect with your support system.
While we can not directly control or prevent violent acts from occurring, we can control our awareness of our emotions and provide support to others. When we do not have control in these areas we may need to seek out others for assistance. Connect with someone you trust and seek professional support when you or someone you know is having difficulty managing their emotions to the point of them negatively impacting their education, job, relationships, or everyday life.
Lisa Aguilar, MS, SSP is a Specialist in School Psychology and an Education Consultant with Action Consulting and Therapy.